Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Quiet Life of Hell

What was I thinking of, holidaying amid the easy pleasures of France when I could have been here? This is just the latest manifestation of what the Germans, in their playful manner, call Ostnostalgie -and it's not confined to Germany, as the barely believable Stalin World in Lithuania indicates. What is going on here? This, I suspect, is just the semi-ironic high end of something much more widespread. Nostalgia for the Stalinist (and post-Stalinist) era is, we are told, pervasive in Russia - which surely explains the popularity of Putin - and among the more alienated former GDR citizens. Is this more than the desire of many people for security and the quiet life at any price? Such people, it would seem, are actually happier under totalitarian systems, which reward compliant citizens with the basics of life and even a sense of solidarity. Should we be worried, or merely depressed?


  1. My Title box is still mysteriously dead, hence no headline...

  2. The word is Ostalgie

  3. If it's good enough for Iain Dale...

  4. I think you have to look into the actual living conditions of the average person within the system as is now to compare with the totalitarianism then.

    The Rape of Russia
    by Anne Williamson
    The following is Anne Williamson's testimony before the Committee on Banking and Financial Services of the U.S. House of Representatives, presented Sept. 21, 1999.

    It shows how the historic opportunity given the U.S. to help transform Russia into a free, peaceful, pro-Western country was squandered in the form of a bruising economic rape carried out by corrupt Russian politicians and businessmen, assisted by Bush and (especially) Clinton administrations engaged in political payoffs to Wall Street bankers and others, and by ineptitude and greed on the part of the U.S. Treasury and the Harvard Institute for International Development, assisted by fellow travelers and manipulators at Nordex, the IMF, the World Bank, and the Federal Reserve.

    The rest here. I'm afraid cosy ideas of the end of tyranny, march of freedom etc are fairy-tales.

  5. 'The Lives of Others' is a brilliant portrayal of life in a police state like the so-called German Democratic Republic.

  6. It is customary and right when confronted with this topic to quote Byron:

    It might be months, or years, or days--
    I kept no count, I took no note--
    I had no hope my eyes to raise,
    And clear them of their dreary mote;
    At last men came to set me free;
    I ask'd not why, and reck'd not where;
    It was at length the same to me,
    Fetter'd or fetterless to be,
    I learn'd to love despair.
    And thus when they appear'd at last,
    And all my bonds aside were cast,
    These heavy walls to me had grown
    A hermitage--and all my own!
    And half I felt as they were come
    To tear me from a second home:
    With spiders I had friendship made
    And watch'd them in their sullen trade,
    Had seen the mice by moonlight play,
    And why should I feel less than they?
    We were all inmates of one place,
    And I, the monarch of each race,
    Had power to kill--yet, strange to tell!
    In quiet we had learn'd to dwell;
    My very chains and I grew friends,
    So much a long communion tends
    To make us what we are:--even I
    Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.

  7. Susan B., a'musing,July 12, 2007 1:16 pm

    CapnB -- you are so right! "The Lives of Others" one of the best films I've read in years. Then, for an essay I was writing on Western culture's current emphasis on 'the body' in art & literature, I read a book about Gunther von Hagens. (Know him? German anatomist who mounted the Body Worlds exhibit of posed corpses. He got into big trouble with it in London in 2003 when he staged a public anatomy to advertise it -- against the Anatomy Act from way back when, Burke & Hare aftermath....) *Anyway*, this book, titled "Pushing the Limits," contains a fascinating couple of essays about von Hagens' early life. He grew up in the GDR but tried to escape. Got caught at the border and spent two years in an infamous prison (Cottbus) near Gera. One of his fellow prisoners wrote a reminiscence of their time together in that prison. Incroyable!

    If you wonder what makes people who they are, look at the time and culture in which they're born, grow up. It is, I think, more powerful than their genetic legacy.